New England Patriots vs Los Angeles Rams
Headley – Everyone knows the household names…Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald, and Ndamukong Suh but this game will be won by the guys who go unnoticed, the most important positional group in football, the offensive line. When you’re watching the Super Bowl this weekend pay attention to the line of scrimmage to see if guys are moving forward or going backwards. On the Patriots offensive line Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Marcus Cannon will get the tall task of winning their individual battles against a fearsome Rams front led by the aforementioned defensive MVP Donald and Suh. The Rams offensive line group of Andrew Whitworth, Rodger Saffold, John Sullivan, Austin Blythe, and Rob Havenstein will be asked to control the line of scrimmage to set up the play-action game and open up rushing lanes for Gurley and C.J. Anderson. The team who runs the ball more effectively has a huge advantage and will probably come away champions. Let me tell you why.
Ninety-four (94) was the number of plays the Patriots ran against the Kansas City Chiefs in their win in the AFC Championship game. 94!!! NFL teams average around 60-70 plays per game. Time of possession naturally was won by the Patriots, 43 minutes and 59 seconds to only 20 minutes and 53 seconds for the Chiefs. The Patriots started that game with a plan to run the football down the Chiefs throat. They wanted to control game-flow, control the time of possession, and keep the ball out of Patrick Mahomes’ hands. In the process of doing so they tired out a Chiefs defense that was out of gas by the time the fourth quarter started. Defenses are not conditioned to be on the field for that many plays and that amount of minutes. To put everything in perspective let’s take a look at the last two Super Bowls which predictably involved the Patriots. A defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles and a win against the Atlanta Falcons. In the win the Patriots ran 93 total plays and controlled the ball for 40 minutes and 31 seconds compared to the Falcons 46 plays and time of possession of 23 minutes and 27 seconds. In their loss against the Eagles the Patriots ran 72 plays but only controlled the football for 25 minutes and 56 seconds compared to the Eagles 34 minutes and 4 seconds. Do you know the best way to win the time of possession and total plays? By dominating up front with your big offensive linemen and running the football which in turn slows up the pass rush and opens up the play-action pass. If the Rams can’t run the football then their bread and butter play action passing game will be less effective. If the Patriots can’t run the football then Donald, Suh and company will pin their ears back and be all over Tom Brady. Hey offensive linemen, you’re probably going to get overlooked once again but the game will be win or loss because of your play.
Drew – We all knew it was gonna be the Los Angeles Rams or the New Orleans Saints representing the NFC in Super Bowl 53 right? As fans we all hoped it was our team in the big dance but as the season progressed and teams started to take shape the proof was in the pudding.
It’s truly amazing to witness how a coach and a GM that both understand talent and are willing to work together for one purpose. Think about the Philadelphia Eagles last year, what they were able to accomplish. “Busts” Jared Goff and Todd Gurley two seasons ago are widely considered among the best players at their respective positions now that there is synergy between the GM and Head Coach. Hell, there was a running joke during the coaching carousel that anyone associated with Sean McVay has a shot at a job. The man’s tree is growing… Perhaps the new criteria for coaches is the willingness to go for it in your own territory, or on fourth and goal (Doug Pederson), or you have to have a photographic memory, unless of course your name is Bill Belichick. Listen I’m not gonna hit ya with a barrage of names and numbers about what the Rams have to do to win. I just know that if the Rams can run the football effectively and not just with Gurley but with C.J. Anderson as well they will when this game. Both running backs offer something a little different that can keep the Patriots on their toes. Thunder and Lightning if you will.
Do I even need to get into how and why the New England Patriots are making their ninth Super Bowl appearance since the turn of the century? Did we expect anyone else? I mean, I was hoping for the Bolt cursed Los Angeles Chargers but… They refuse to change the color of the bolt so the curse continues to be invoked.
The Patriots, as I’ve stated in the past are a run first team although many think the pass is what they do, due to the notable names of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and let’s throw in a Phillip Dorsett for good measure. With all the running backs that are on the roster and each one capable of doing just what the others can do, the run is what opens the floodgates for how the Patriots keep defenses off balance and guessing. By the time you realize what has happened it’s too late and what the Patriots like to do has been the Achilles heel for the Rams even with the addition of Suh, until the playoffs. The Rams defense in these playoffs looks like the defense we all thought they’d be coming into the season and I don’t expect this to change. But, I think the Patriots will use their running backs even more matching them up with whomever is on the other side cornerback, linebacker, or safety. New England believes their running backs can win and win consistently.
I expect this game to be close and if Brady has the ball last and with no Brandon Graham out there it’ll be a wrap. But maybe just maybe McVay has learned from the Conference Championship Game and what happened to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Juice – While many outside of Massachusetts and Louisiana “hope” the Los Angeles Rams come away victorious in Super Bowl 53, I actually believe they will win this contest. Certainly the game will be closely contested but I like the Rams despite having to face the battery of Brady and Belichick. The reasons why I’m picking Los Angeles are: their overall talent level, my belief that their isn’t a canyon like valley between the respective coaching staffs and the Rams ability to win in a multitude of ways, unlike the Chiefs for example.
Kansas City’s sole formula for success was to pounce on the opponent with a flurry of offense and then unleash a league leading pass rush. The Rams can employ that same tactic or play ball control offense and wear the opponent down over the course of the game. They have also demonstrated that they can stifle a rushing attack, put pressure on the quarterback, and make game-winning plays via special teams on a consistent basis. So regardless of what Bill Belichick ultimately takes away from the Rams, I firmly believe the Rams have the mental toughness, talent, and coaching to adjust accordingly and have success particularly in a neutral environment.
Speaking of coaching a lot has been made of the stark contrast in experience and accomplishment between Bill Belichick and Sean McVay. However, I don’t think enough is being made of how Rams’ defensive coordinator Wade Phillips helps mitigate the presumed edge New England has in terms of coaching. Don’t get me wrong, Belichick > All NFL Coaching Staffs. However, Phillips is one of the most decorated defensive coordinators in NFL History and has had success against Belichick and Brady. Not only is the Rams defensive talent superior to any team New England has faced during these playoffs, but I can’t imagine Phillips will have both of his safeties lining up 15-20 yards off the line scrimmage, opening up the middle of the field; instead muddying the waters, taking the fight to Brady and the Patriots offense by shooting gaps, disrupting their timing, and forcing throws to the boundary.
The Patriots have the 2019 Playoffs leading rusher (Sony Michel), boast a Top 5 rushing offense and an offensive line that has yet to allow a sack in the postseason. However, in the divisional round and conference championship the Rams faced two Top 10 rushing offenses and held them to an average of a mere 2.6 yards per carry. Los Angeles’ run defense was the most glaring deficiency they had this season and they seemingly have it corrected with Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald leading the charge up front; and in a game of match-ups the team that can control the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball has the best chance to win.
I mentioned how dominant the Patriots offensive line has been during the playoffs and I’ve been impressed with how the Rams beat up the Dallas Cowboys’ front seven and handled the noise in the Super Dome against the Saints. I see this position group as a “push” between the two teams. On the defensive side of the ball I’ve been blown away by how well the Patriots defense has played during the postseason particularly in the first half of games. Scheme and improved play from the Patriots front seven have been the linchpin to forcing a ton of 3 & Outs. The Patriots defensive line only has one standout in my mind (Trey Flowers) but Kyle Van Noy has done a great job applying pressure to the passer too as the Patriots have become more aggressive in deploying their blitz packages. That being said, the Rams collective of Donald, Suh, Dante Fowler and Michael Brockers is just flat out better than what New England has to offer. L.A. has the edge in terms of pass rushing ability and the dominant duo in the interior is exactly what gives Brady trouble (can’t double both of them). I give the Rams interior pass rush the slight edge over Shaq Mason, David Andrews and Joe Thuney but it’s that thin margin in a game of inches that can make all the difference.
As we move from the trenches and look at the signal callers there’s simply no comparison at this juncture in their respective careers between Brady and Jared Goff. The Brady factor cannot be dis-counted but as I alluded to in the Conference Championship Recap Jared Goff has a tendency to be under-appreciated considering how poorly his first seven career starts went. I don’t think the moment will be too big for him. Often an after thought when discussing the best young quarterbacks in the league Goff had a very impressive season, improves each year, and has made clutch throws throughout these playoffs. He’s also faced substantial pressure and adversity in his young career which should serve him in the biggest game of his life, Super Bowl 53. I also like the depth of Goff’s collection of weapons more than Brady’s.
Edelman and Gronkowski made play after play in the Conference Championship and James White is a handful out of the backfield but the Rams match-up much better against those players than the Chiefs did particularly with Eric Berry still working his way back from injury. It’s gotten lost among the missed PI call in the NFC Championship game but Nickell Robey-Coleman is a very good slot corner and John Johnson III has quickly become one of the better young safeties in the NFL. Chris Hogan simply doesn’t beat man-to-man consistently enough and as long as the Rams can keep Phillip Dorsett in front of them there should be plenty of opportunities to make tackles short of first down yardage.
Everyone is familiar with Todd Gurley, who I anticipate will bounce back from a disappointing Conference Championship game especially as a receiver; Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and C.J. Anderson. But, I have a sneaking suspicion it will be the sparingly used tight ends Gerald Everett and Tyler Highbee that come up BIG in Super Bowl 53. As I mentioned before, Belichick is going to take something away and attempt to force the Rams to play left handed. When not blitzing I anticipate All-Pro corner Stephon Gilmore to be matched up against Robert Woods throughout the balance of the game. Speedster Brandin Cooks will see his fair share of double teams a la Tyreek Hill, but, you saw what Damian Williams did as a receiver out of the backfield against New England. Todd Gurley has proven to be a dynamic pass catching option and should have his way with the Patriots 2nd level defenders.
By now I’m sure you know that the Rams are in “11” personnel almost exclusively (82% of the time according to sharpfootballstats.com) but their next most utilized personnel group is “12” personnel (13%). I’m predicting McVay has a little wrinkle for New England and will go to two tight end sets on 25-30% of their Super Bowl plays. The size/speed combination Higbee and Everett possess is simply too much for Patriots linebackers and safeties to handle swinging the pendulum further in Los Angeles’ favor in my estimation. I’m calling a Greg Zuerlein field goal as time expires making the Los Angeles Rams Super Bowl Champs.